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What is Runner’s Knee?


Runner’s knee is the colloquial name for a type of knee pain, called patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS). It is caused by over-use of the knee joint which creates inflammation and swelling in the soft tissues surrounding the joint. It is a common injury in runners, especially if they consistently run on hard surfaces, but anyone can be at risk of having this condition if they indulge in high-impact activities.

There are a variety of causes of runner’s knee, including trauma like a knock or fall, anatomical abnormality in the joint, having high arches in the feet, wearing incorrect sports shoes, worn cartilage in the knee joint, tight calf and hamstring muscles, weak quadriceps muscle and repetitive, forceful actions which involve bending the knee.

The pain of a runner’s knee is mainly felt behind the patella or knee cap, towards the centre, but behind the knee can also be painful. It is worse when climbing stairs, getting up from sitting (when the knees have been bent for a time), running, or jumping.

It may start out as mild and you will probably be tempted to work through it. However, without rest, the pain will increase as the inflammation worsens and you risk more serious injury if the condition is not treated.

Causes Of Runner’s Knee

  • Repeated bending or squatting exercises
  • Stretched tendons
  • Direct hit or blow to the knee
  • Misalignment in knee bones
  • Hypermobile feet
  • Flat Foot
  • Weak thigh muscles
  • Excessive physical activity
  • Not warming up before exercising
  • Orthopedic conditions like Knee Arthritis, fracture, and dislocation

Symptoms Of Runner’s Knee

  • Knee pain
  • Pain after prolonged periods of sitting
  • Snapping or popping sensation in the knee
  • Swelling and tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • Inability to stretch the leg

Diagnosis Of Runner’s Knee

The knee surgeon in Frisco may initiate the diagnosis by physically examining the joint for the symptoms associated with the condition.

He may also ask the patient to bend or squat in order to identify the exact location of the pain. The orthopedic surgeon may also recommend certain tests such as a CT scan or X-ray to confirm the severity of the condition.

Effective Treatment of Runners Knee

Treatment is aimed at relieving the pain as well as allowing time for the soft tissues to heal; given the appropriate time and treatment, the condition usually heals by itself.

Rest is the most important aspect of the treatment of the runner’s knee. Any movement that causes pain should be avoided; this means most actions involve bending or putting weight on that knee. When sitting down or lying, elevate the leg to help relieve the pain.

The application of ice or ice packs will help to relieve the pain and reduce swelling in the first few days after the injury is sustained. For those first 2 to 3 days, apply ice every 1 to 2 hours, for a period of 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Always cover the ice with a towel to protect your skin.

Compression of the knee with a supportive bandage or brace helps to restrict movement and gives extra support to assist the healing process.

Anti-inflammatory medication from a pharmacy, containing aspirin, naproxen or ibuprofen, will help to reduce inflammation in the tissues of the knee joint. These are the best pain relief for the runner’s knee. Use these meds with caution as they do have side effects; short-term use is usually sufficient.

When the pain has subsided, you can start gentle movements to get the knee working again. Start with gentle stretches and bending the knee; then progress to strengthening exercises for the muscles of the thigh and calf. If any movement causes knee pain, stop and wait another 24 hours before trying again.

Read Related: How Often Should a Runner Get a Massage?

Is it Possible to Prevent Runners Knee?

There are steps you can take to prevent a runner’s knee; these are especially important to prevent a recurrence of the condition.

Always warm up properly before exercise or sport, paying particular attention to stretches for the muscles of the legs; do hamstring, quadriceps, and calf stretches. Use these same stretches as a cool-down after exercise.
Include these stretches in your training program and do them daily if you have had runners knee before.

Invest in activity-specific sport shoes as these will give you the best support for your feet which in turn, gives you the best support for your knees. If these don’t give you sufficient support, try arch supports or even custom-made orthotics.

When running, alternate hard and soft surfaces and avoid uneven ground as much as possible. When running up inclines, shorten your stride to reduce strain on your knees.
Alternate non-weight-bearing activities like swimming or cycling with running, to take the pressure off your knees.

Only ever increase intensity and distance gradually; sudden changes to exercise can put undue strain on your joints.

When recovering from an injury, start off gradually and stop if you experience pain. Wear knee support at first to provide extra assistance to the joint but continue with strengthening exercise so you can discontinue the use of the support as soon as possible.

Runner’s knee is a treatable condition that heals well if attended to as soon as pain strikes. People heal at different rates but there is no way you can hurry the repair process – you need to be patient. Never be tempted to return to full activity until there is no pain on movement and the injured knee feels as good as the other one.

Dr Christine Nolan is the CEO and founder of Footdiagnosis.com. She also has extensive clinical experience and is therefore uniquely qualified to detect and manage diseases of the lower extremities including those related to peripheral arterial disease and diabetes.